A week ago, everyone was quite down on the Arizona Wildcats. They had just lost both games of the L.A. road trip, Allonzo Trier had broken his hand, and the team was near the bottom of the conference standings.
My how things change in a week.
We talk about the two most intriguing things from the Washington home stand, and look ahead to what we expect to happen against Stanford and Cal this weekend.
Jason Bartel: How surprised were you with Arizona's offensive success in the first week without Allonzo Trier?
Gabe Encinas: Very. Putting up 90+ in two consecutive games without your leading scorer is mind-blowing considering how bad this team could have been without Trier.
However, I think it could benefit Arizona mildly. I think that they're forced to spread the ball around a little more now, and we've seen extremely consistent production from both Dusan Ristic and Kaleb Tarczewski, and now we're getting Mark Tollefsen with back-to-back double digit games as well. Parker Jackson-Cartwright has been phenomenal distributing the ball, tallying 18 assists to three turnovers this past week.
When Arizona is in trouble, they'll still look to Gabe York to get the momentum going, but aside from that, about seven guys in the rotation put up double-digit figures, which wouldn't be the case when Trier takes his 10+ shots a game.
Brandon Hill: Small sample size but yeah, I was pretty surprised. In a one-off weekend pairing, you figure everyone rallies together to pick up the slack from Trier's absence. Shooting 57% from the field and 58% from three over the two games was pretty incredible. Sustainable, even in the short term? Probably not. I think the Bay area trip will give us a better idea of how this team will operate without Trier. But as far as an immediate reaction to the injury... could not ask for a better response. And I agree with Gabe, I think there is an opportunity to turn the negative into a positive in terms of other guys having somewhat increased roles.
Matt Sheeley: On the surface, yes, averaging 94.5 points in our first two games without Allonzo Trier is very surprising. But when you analyze the way they did it, it isn't all that surprising. Everything and everyone was clicking. For one thing, perhaps the most surprising part, the phenomenal point guard play of Parker Jackson-Cartwright. He had 18 assists and only three turnovers against the Washington schools and it's that "pass first, find the open man" mentality that led Arizona to the offensive juggernaut they look to be. The Wildcats had 42 assists in those two games. Couple that with a large rebounding edge and VERY smart shot selection, and you get what we saw: 189 points in two games without the leading scorer.
Ryan Kelapire: I wasn't that surprised. This team has plenty of solid offensive players. That's not the issue. The issue is the defense (which is weird to say, isn't it?). And if Parker Jackson-Cartwright is going to play as well as he did -- with an 18:3 assist-to-turnover ratio -- then yeah, offensive outputs like that are going to happen. Now, is it sustainable? Probably not. But I don't imagine there will be a significant drop off offensively when things "regress to the mean".
JB: What was the first thing that went through your head when Arizona went zone?
GE: Miller has my approval on anything he wants to do. I've learned not to question Sean Miller in any facet on basketball.
BH: It was one of those things that seemed weird visually but I couldn't put my finger on it until the broadcast mentioned that Arizona was in zone, which is obviously a Sean Miller rarity (if not a first). Whether or not he goes to the zone at points going forward creates a wrinkle teams have to at least put in the back of their minds. When the pack-line is at its best you simply cannot penetrate but there is a susceptibility to outside shooting. If you can also threaten zone on the perimeter it makes for a formidable defense to gameplan around. Maybe Miller, in mad scientist fashion, simply wanted to see what it looked like on the floor.
MS: Truthfully, it worries me a little. I feel like the defense's weaknesses this year have been being too slow on help defense, getting beat by backdoor cuts and not closing out on threes hard enough. Those happen to be the best ways to beat a zone. I will say though that I'm a fan of switching defensive looks throughout the game so if that's something Sean Miller intends on doing, I like that side of it.
RK: I was happy to see it because it means Sean Miller isn't going to stick with something that wasn't working. I'm not sure the zone will stick around -- Miller said it would -- but as long as Miller is continually looking for solutions to the team's problems, I'm cool with whatever he throws out there.
JB: What will happen this weekend in the Bay Area?
GE: I like having Stanford first, because I'm hoping ASU gets a good shot at California before they get to us, making it somewhat easier. Stanford gave Arizona some trouble last season on the road, and I can totally see Rosco Allen going off. As for California, they're not very good this season, but they're going to be so hyped to play Arizona and their arena might actually be filled. I think this will be tough, simply because it's Cal playing up to Arizona. They have the talent, just haven't been able to put it together. To me this is a two-possession game at most. But I wouldn't be surprised if this is a blowout. This is Arizona we're talking about.
BH: It's never an easy trip but I expect two wins. I think the Cal game in particular is a bit of a referendum on the Golden Bears. Much hyped in the preseason with their big-time recruiting class (including Ivan Rabb, who chose Cal over Arizona), they've been sketchy at times (12-6 overall, 2-3 Pac-12, 3-4 in their last seven games). Many viewed them as the biggest threat to Arizona. This game is an opportunity for the Cats to show that there is still a gap between the two programs -- in both talent and coaching -- despite Cal being on the rise.
MS: The conference is deep and full of parity so there are no gimmes on the road. In addition to that, every Pac-12 team marks down on their calendar when Arizona is coming to town. That's the price of being the top dog. So every road trip will present a very difficult challenge. This is no different. Maples Pavilion is never an easy place to play. And Cal, even though they're struggling, has an immense amount of talent and will be looking to prove their worth against the Wildcats. I don't see Arizona coming out of the trip unscathed. I'll predict a split.
RK: Split. The Wildcats will beat Stanford, but lose to Cal. Anybody can beat anybody in this conference, and playing at home is a huge advantage. Cal is as talented as any team in this conference, and even though they haven't really put it together yet, they're dangerous. And we know that even some of the best teams Arizona has had have lost in Berkeley. That loss two years ago still stings.